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In conjunction with the launch of Power7-based blade servers this week, IBM is also delivered a long-awaited upgrade to its proprietary i For Business operating system (formerly known as OS/400), with i 7.1 bringing native XML and encryption capabilities to the integrated database management system embedded in the OS. IBM is also adding features to i 7.1's compiler tools that allow them to create applications without using the legacy green-screen protocols that have defined IBM midrange systems for more than 40 years.

In the past, IBM had an XML toolkit that bolted into previous generations of OS/400 and i operating systems, allowing for data stored in databases to be linked to XML documents as well as allowing for XML data to be decomposed and stored in databases. With the DB2 for i 7.1 version announced this week, this DB2 variant gets the same native XML capabilities that IBM added to DB2 for Linux, Windows, and Unix servers is 2006 and added to mainframes in 2007.

Now, XML documents can be stored inside of the database itself, and the database knows how to shred XML documents and turn them into relational data as well as generating XML docs from relational data. IBM has also embedded its OmniFind text search server into the DB2 for i 7.1 database so that SQL database queries can scan embedded XML documents much as they would individual data stored in a database record.

IBM is also adding column-level data encryption to the DB2 for i database, which means IBM midrange shops and software vendors don't have to graft this onto their applications by hand. Rather than cut out those companies, like Patrick Townsend and and Linoma Software, who already sell encryption tools for the i community, IBM is not picking any particular encryption algorithm, but rather exposing the APIs so these companies still have a business.

Ditto for the new Open Access for RPG feature that is part of the Rational compiler toolset for the new i 7.1 and the prior i 6.1 and i 6.1.1 releases. Since the advent of the System/38 back in 1979, midrange applications written in RPG and COBOL using the integrated database embedded in the CPF operating system have used the 5250 protocol to grab data from databases and paint it onto green screens that now define the look and feel of legacy midrange and mainframe applications.

With the client/server revolution in the late 1980s and the Internet revolution in the 1990s, this 5250 protocol was bent, twisted, hacked, and mashed to create new PC and Web applications that had a more modern look and feel. Open Access for RPG cuts the 5250 data stream off from RPG applications and allows for ISVs and in-house application developers to create what amounts to their own datastream to feed data from RPG apps out to Web services, XML interfaces and documents, and mobile devices such as iPhones.

Both the RPG compiler and RPG runtime have to be changed to allow for these new datastreams, which are called handlers. According to Ian Jarman, manager of Power Systems software, IBM hopes that the same companies that made a good living selling tools to mashup the 5250 datastream will turn to creating these Open Access handlers for RPG applications, which will very likely be coded in C or C++. IBM's Lab Services is already creating some handlers, as are ISV partners looksoftware, Profound Logic, and VAI. There will likely be many more. And there will likely be a COBOL variant if enough customers are interested in Open Access for those applications. (COBOL is still in use on AS/400s and their progeny in the financial services and insurance industries).

Incidentally, IBM is not removing or in any way blocking the 5250 protocol. The company charges a premium for the software that controls this protocol on its midrange and high-end Power Systems machines, which spans from $50,000 to $150,000, depending on the machine. It is not clear yet what Open Access for RPG will cost, since the handlers are just being developed now.

The i 7.1 operating system has a number of other enhancements. First, it has been tweaked so it can automatically see the databases and files that are being hit the hardest by applications and automatically mode this information to flash-based storage, which has much higher I/O compared to traditional disk drives. Moving data around between memory and disk transparently to applications is something that CPF and its kicker, OS/400, have been doing for decades. It's called single level storage, and it was designed so programmers didn't need to worry about moving data around - everything looks like a single address space to RPG and COBOL applications, even though it is a mix of main memory and disk. With i 7.1, flash-based storage is grafted onto single-level storage and given algorithms to control the placement of data onto flash.

On many servers, this process of keeping hot data on SSDs is done manually by system administrators. With i 7.1, IBM is also creating what amounts to a type 2 or guest hypervisor that runs inside of the PowerVM type 1 or bare-metal logical partition on Power Systems. With this feature, an i 6.1 logical partition can spin up an i 7.1 or i 6.1 guest partition inside itself, accessing the same disk as the primary partition. Normally, to create a logical partition, you have assign disk and I/O physically to the partition, but with this guest partition option, you can access disk and I/O virtually.

This can be done quickly, and a partition can be trashed when the testing is over. i 7.1 logical partitions can create guest partitions based on i 7.1 or i 6.1. Guest partitions can also be spun up for AIX 5.2, 5.3, and 6.1 as well as the Linux distros from Red Hat and Novell. These guest partitions do not support active memory sharing and N_Port ID Virtualization (NPIV), which allows an i-based partition managed from a PowerVM hypervisor to link directly to native Fibre Channel adapters that drive IBM's big DS8000 and midrange TS3X00 arrays.

i 7.1 will be available on April 23. The software will run on any iSeries or System i server based on Power5, Power5+, or Power6 processors or Power Systems machines based on Power6+ or Power7 processors. ®

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